Focal Point Publications

[See also the facsimile of Britton’s original version] [and another version]

Arthur Britton British Army
Arthur Britton (left) in England, probably Windsor [

Top of first page marked in ink:

“Sep. Doc, Envelope 2387.”

and numbered: “HQ 0426”


ON 6th May 1945 at Plön, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS, C in C of the Reserve Army, Reichsminister of the Interior, and Chief of Police, was dismissed from his offices by Grand Admiral Doenitz, the new head of the German state after Hitler’s suicide. The dreaded Himmler, one of Hitler’s earliest and most trusted colleagues had become head of the SS, Hitler‘s elite bodyguard, and as Chief of Police and Interior Minister had been responsible for the SS — Death’s Head Concentration Camp guards — the largest mass-murder organisation known in history. Admiral Doenitz hated and distrusted Himmler and would have no truck with him, so the SS leader decided to go South to his home in Bavaria, taking with him a few escorts, medical advisers and ADCs. Disguising themselves and holding false papers, the party 12 strong, left Flensburg on 10th May. Himmler had documents purporting to show that he was “Ex Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger of a Special Armoured Company, attached to the Secret Field Police, demobilised on 3 May 1945”. This curiously unsuitable cover-name meant that he was still in an automatic arrest category. He wore a civilian jacket, shaved off his moustache, removed his pince-nez glasses, and donned an eye patch over his left eye.

Crossing the Elbe estuary by boat they then mixed with a great mass of German troops of all services who were hemmed into the peninsula formed by the Rivers Elbe and Ems and the North Sea Coast. They moved South by easy stages to Bremervörde, a small town on the little river Oste which they reached on 18th May; though they could have crossed this river elsewhere, they decided to use the bridge which was guarded by British troops of the 51st Highland Division. Acting on British 2nd Army reports, a check point had been established here by 45 Field Security Section (attached to HQ 30 Corps) based at Zeven a few kilometres further south.

Himmler and two of his escorts, a Waffen SS Lt Col and a Major walked through Bremervörde on 22 May towards the check point, and a bizarre sight they must have been. The two escorts in front were clearly military men in long green overcoats, while the dreaded mass-murderer himself looked insignificant in an odd selection of civilian garments with a blue raincoat on top. To make matters worse, the two officers glanced back from time to time to ensure that their charge was still with them. This odd trio was picked up by an alert British infantry patrol, not knowing who they were, and were brought in to the check point. Here Sergeants Arthur Britton [author of this postwar report] and Ken Baisbrown of 45 Field Security Section, and Staff Sergeant John Hogg of 1003 Field Security Reserve Detachment made out the arrest documents after a quick scrutiny of the false identity papers, and realisation that all three were in an automatic arrest category. The true identity of the second greatest German war criminal of them all did not come to light for another couple of days.

He was allowed some refreshment and a floor to sleep on at the check point that night and next morning, 23 May, was sent on to No 031 Civil Internment Camp at Barnstedt; Sgt Britton drove the truck with the three prisoners, and on the way checked in at HQ 45 FSS at Zeven, where the OC Captain Excell sent them straight on to the Internment Camp for full processing. Around 7 pm that night Himmler asked for an interview with the Camp Commandant, Captain Thomas Selvester, and for some reason revealed his true identity. An Intelligence Officer was quickly sent by HQ 2nd Army nearby, bearing a specimen signature of Himmler’s which was checked against the prisoner’s signature, and identification was complete.

Two body searches and a complete change of clothing failed to reveal any hidden poisons, and at 9.45 pm Colonel Michael Murphy, Chief of Intelligence at HQ 2nd British Army arrived to take personal charge of the prisoner. He immediately arranged for a medical search to be carried out at Luneburg and at 10.45 pm it was done by Captain Wells RAMC, the HQ Medical Officer, now deceased [Wells died on August 15, 1975], but who left a written account of the affair.

dead illicit PRO 150Having searched the prisoner thoroughly he came to the mouth, where he noticed a small blue tit-like object sticking out of the lower sulcus of the left cheek. He slipped his finger into the prisoner’s mouth to sweep out what he had seen but Himmler immediately clamped down on the doctor’s fingers, they struggled, he wrenched his head away, crushed the glass capsule between his teeth, and the cyanide did its deadly work in some ten minutes.

The arch criminal underwent autopsy and formal identification by Allied staff officers and was buried in an unmarked grave outside Lüneburg on 25 May 1945.

While these events were going on 61 FSS and troops of 11th Armoured Division arrested Grand Admiral Dönitz and members of his interim government at Flensburg on 22 May while 53 FSS [attached to] the VIII Corps HQ Section at Lübeck arrested the Commandant of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister was picked up to [sic] FS personnel in Hamburg at about the same time. 61 FSS had another big haul of wanted men on 23 May when they captured Colonel General Jodl, General Major Dethleffsen, Admiral Wagner, two Reichsministers and six State Secretaries. The Section’s official report to GSI (b) at HQ VIII Corps described their difficulties in gathering in the bodies and their documents, as Press Teams and Shaef observers were wrongly allowed to accompany the arrest task force. These onlookers “lifted” souvenirs such as watches and wallets, which in the case of Category I arrests may well have contained highly important evidence.


Penciled note at foot of last page: “This story agreed by Mr Neil McDermott Q.C. formerly GSO1 (Int b) at HQ 21st Army Group, though he added that a gentle interrogation by M.I.5 reps also took place. TGR”

Each page is marked in ink, “Copy of document. Int. Corps Archives. A/E [Major (ret.) Alan Edwards] 7/10.05.” Edwards states October 6, 2005: “I also found a most detailed report prepared by a Sgt Britton who arrested Himmler. This material was written at the time Mr Ramsey was preparing his article [for After the Battle magazine].” Spelling and transcription errors have been corrected here. Items in brackets [ ] were inserted by this website 2005 and 2010.


Related documents on this website:

list Heinrich Himmler dossier | Statement by Sergeant Britton on arrest of Himmler
list Dossier on death of Heinrich Himmler
pp Statement dated February 11, 1964, by former colonel (British Army) Michael Murphy on the death of Heinrich Himmler, May 1945
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